Tesla sees record profit in Q1
Elon Musk opined on a podcast last year that “too many smart people go into finance and law.” In these professions, the thinking goes, people tinker around the edges of the economy. Technology, meanwhile, is remaking the economy.
For the young graduates going after a career in tech rather than pursuing a more traditional path, there’s scarcely been a better time in terms of the potential monetary reward. Joining a young startup could be a ticket to the next Snowflake Inc., Roblox Corp. or Airbnb Inc. — to name a few of the newly-public companies worth tens of billions. And after a series of major technological advancements over the last several months, there’s also a chance to realize that time-honored tech industry cliche: changing the world for the better.
Take tech companies’ role during the pandemic: E-commerce and food-delivery apps allowed vulnerable people to avoid infection. Videoconferencing and workplace collaboration apps enabled remote work and online schooling, while streaming services and videogames provided in-home entertainment. Most importantly, the rapid development of effective COVID-19 vaccines using new technology like mRNA saved lives and put us on the path to recovery.
All that’s laid the foundation for further progress. The focus on building digital services to cope with COVID-19 has led to significant advances in key technologies — such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence and semiconductors — that will enable the next wave of innovation. And the maturation of free open-source software tools is a boon for startups looking to develop products rapidly at a lower expense.
Investors are stepping up as well. According to Crunchbase, nearly US$73 billion was invested in growth-stage North American startups during the March quarter, double the prior year. Simply put, there may never have been an easier or more fortuitous time to start a new technology company.
The tech industry is also going after thorny problems. Earlier this month, Microsoft Corp. bet US$20 billion on the potential for artificial intelligence to dramatically improve the workplace with its purchase of Nuance Communications Inc. The software giant is looking to apply the voice-recognition pioneer’s early success in using AI to unburden doctors from tedious administrative paperwork to other industries beyond health care. Fortnite maker Epic Games Inc. raised US$1 billion in fresh capital that may bring about something straight out of science fiction novels. The game publisher said the funds will go toward its goal of building the “Metaverse,” where people can play and socialize with one another in virtual worlds. And on Monday, Apple Inc. said it plans to spend tens of billions of dollars on the development of advanced semiconductors and 5G wireless technologies over the next five years.
Technological progress can have its downsides. There have been ethical hurdles with the use of facial recognition against minority groups, along with negative effects from algorithms that amplify polarizing content on social media. And not all these companies will succeed in their lofty aspirations. But I’m optimistic there will be breakthroughs, and that the potential contributions to society outweigh the costs. With the increasing inflow of talent and large amounts of capital going after such exciting ideas, we may be on the brink of a golden age for innovation. If even just a handful of these new ideas succeed, the future could be brighter than even Elon Musk’s brightest dreams.